Buddhist Scriptures, by E.J. Thomas, , at sacred-texts.com
Four of the five gatis or states of re-birth (see Introd. p. 20) occur in the following story: Mittavindaka, in his life as a man, and as inhabitant of hell, the inhabitants of the ghost world in a mitigated state of punishment, and the Bodhisatta, as king of the gods. The term translated "hell" is sometimes called purgatory. It may be called either purgatory, or hell with finite punishment, but there is no doubt that, apart from the punishments not being eternal, such abodes as Lohakumbhī, the burning cauldron, Sanjīva, where beings are cut to pieces and revived to suffer the same punishment, correspond most closely with the popular idea of the Christian hell.
The story was told by the Master for the exhortation of a brother who refused to obey the monastic rules, and the teaching is emphasized by Buddha explaining at the close that Mittavindaka was the disobedient brother himself in a previous existence.
Long ago, in the time of Buddha Kassapa 1 of the ten powers 2 there lived the son of a chief
of gild-merchants, who was worth eight hundred millions. His name was Mittavindaka. His parents had entered the first stage of the Noble Path, but he was vicious and unbelieving. After the death of his father, his mother, who managed the household, said to him, "My son, the state of man is hard for you to obtain; give alms, keep the commandments, perform the fast-day vows, and hear the doctrine." He replied, "Mother, I have no wish to give alms and so on; tell me nothing of that. I shall go according to my karma." But, though he answered so, his mother, on a certain fast-day of the full moon, said to him, "My son, to-day is set apart as a great fast-day. Take upon yourself the vows to-day, go to the monastery and hear the doctrine all night, and I will give you a thousand pieces of money." "Very well," he replied, and through desire for the money he took upon himself the vows, ate an early meal, went to the monastery and passed the day there; but in order that not a word of the doctrine should reach his ear, he lay down at night in one place and fell asleep. Early next day he washed his mouth, and, returning home, sat down.
And his mother thought, "To-day my son, after hearing the doctrine, will come home early, bringing the elder who preached the doctrine," and she got ready gruel, and food hard and soft, prepared a seat, waited for his coming, and, seeing him returning alone, said, "My son, why have you not brought the preacher?" "I don't want a preacher," he said. "Then drink the gruel," she replied. "You promised me a thousand pieces," said he; "give them to me now. I will drink it later." "Drink it, my son; you shall have them afterwards." "I will drink it when I have got them." So his mother set before him the bundle of a thousand pieces. He drank the gruel, took the bundle, and, trading with the money, in no long time gained two millions.
Then he thought that he would get a ship and trade. He did so, and said, "Mother, I am going to do trade with this ship." But his mother replied, "You are my only son; in this house there is plenty of wealth, and at sea there are many dangers. Do not go." He replied, "But I will go; you cannot stop me." She said, "My son, I will stop you," and took hold of his hand. But he pushed her hand away, struck her, caused her to fall down, shut her in, and went off by ship to sea.
The ship, on the seventh day, because of Mittavindaka, became immovable in the deep. Lots
were cast 1 to find the unlucky person, and three times the lot was found in Mittavindaka's hand. So they gave him a raft, saying, "Let not many perish for the sake of this one," and they put him in the sea. And at that very moment the ship sped on swiftly over the ocean.
Alighting on the raft he reached a certain island. There in a crystal palace he saw four female ghosts. For seven days they used to undergo pain, and then for seven days pleasure. For seven days he experienced with them divine bliss. Then, as they were going away for their punishment, they said, "Master, on the seventh day we shall come back. Until we come back do not be distressed, but stay here," and they departed.
But he, being in the power of craving, embarked on his raft, and again sailed over the sea, till he reached another island, and there found eight female ghosts in a silver palace. In the same way, on another island he found sixteen in a palace of jewels, and on another thirty-two in a golden palace. And with them he experienced divine bliss. When the time came for these also to undergo punishment, he went again over the sea, and saw a city with four gates, surrounded by a wall. It was the Ussada hell, a place where many inhabitants of hell undergo the consequences of their deeds. But to Mittavindaka it
appeared as a city beautifully adorned. He thought, "I will enter this city, and become king." On entering he saw a being burning in hell, and supporting on his head a razor-wheel. But the razor-wheel on his head seemed like a lotus. The fivefold fetters on his breast seemed like a splendid breastplate, and the blood dripping from his body seemed like red sandal-wood ointment. The sound of lamentation seemed like the sound of sweet singing. Mittavindaka approached him, and said, "Fellow, you have been wearing that lotus long enough, give it to me." "Friend, it is no lotus, it is a razor-wheel." "You say that because you don't wish to give it to me." The inhabitant of hell thought, "My past deeds [karma] must be exhausted, he must have come for having struck his mother, as I did. I will give him the razor-wheel." So he said, "Come, sir, take this lotus." And with these words he threw the razor-wheel on Mittavindaka's head, and it fell, crushing his skull. At that moment Mittavindaka recognized the razor-wheel, and he cried out, "Take your razor-wheel, take your razor-wheel." But the other disappeared.
Then the Bodhisatta with a great retinue passed through the Ussada hell, and arrived at that place. Mittavindaka, on perceiving him, said to him, "Master, king of the gods, this wheel has come down on my head, and is grinding it small
like sesame seeds. What is the sin that I have done?" And he spoke two verses:
All the doors are shut and bolted,
And like a bird am I caged in.
What is the reason, goblin 1, tell me,
Why am I smitten with this wheel?
Then the Bodhisatta, king of the gods, to explain the reason spoke six verses:
Thou wentest sailing o’er the sea,
An ocean journey, hard to win.
Then to the four thou didst arrive,
And then the eight, and the sixteen.
And from them to the thirty-two.
Then to the wheel, too greedy one,
Thou tamest, driven by greed, and now
The wheel revolves upon thy head.
The city, wide and hard to fill,
Laden with greed thou didst approach.
Who for this city seek in lust,
They shall be bearers of the wheel.
Ponder thy deeds, and thy great wealth consider,
Follow not greed, all vain and useless is it,
And heed the words of those who would thee pity.
If thou art such, the wheel shall not approach thee.
Mittavindaka, on hearing this, thought, "This son of the gods knows exactly what I have done. He will also know how long I have to burn. I will ask him," and he spoke the ninth verse:
[paragraph continues] Then the Great Being in reply uttered the tenth verse:
Saying this, the son of the gods went to his own place, and upon the other one came great suffering. (Jat. No. 439.)
90:1 Previous to the historical Buddha were twenty-four other Buddhas in previous ages, of whom Kassapa was the twenty-fourth. They are of course quite unhistorical.
90:2 The ten powers (bala) of a Buddha are knowledge of what is possible and impossible, knowledge of the consequences of actions, knowledge of the different elements, knowledge of the different dispositions of men, knowledge of the higher p. 91 or lower mental powers of men, knowledge of the path that leads to all the highest objects, knowledge of the origin, disappearance, and corruption of the contemplations, liberations, meditations, and attainments, knowledge of remembering former existences, knowledge of divine sight, knowledge of the destruction of the passions.
93:1 Cf. Jonah i. 7.
95:1 So Mittavindaka addresses the Bodhisatta, as if he were a demon.
96:1 I.e. he has to spend a lifetime in hell according to his karma.